Fred Snowden was a trailblazing African American basketball coach who made history during his career. Born in 1936 in Brewton, Alabama, he moved with his mother to Detroit, Michigan, at the age of six. He graduated from Northwestern High School and later attended Wayne State University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1958.
Snowden began his coaching career at Northwestern High School as a junior varsity coach before becoming the varsity coach. In 1967, he was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan under Dave Strack. He remained on staff for five seasons, the last four under head coach Johnny Orr. In 1972, Snowden was hired by Strack to be the head coach at the University of Arizona, becoming the first African American head coach of a major university and the second ever in Division I. During his tenure at Arizona, Snowden went 167-108, won the WAC title in 1976, and took the team to the NCAA Tournament twice and the second iteration of the NCIT.
After leaving coaching, Snowden worked in the private and non-profit sectors and was inducted into the Arizona Athletics Sports Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Snowden passed away in January 1994 after suffering a heart attack in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Maya, had one son and one daughter.
The content based on the Fred Snowden page on the Coaches Database website.
“It unlocked the door for a lot of other coaches,” said Bob Elliott, the Board Chair of AAMSAZ. “All of a sudden now, Washington State hires George Raveling away from Maryland, who was an assistant coach. Georgetown hires John Thompson, who was a high school coach in D.C. It opened the door for a lot of people because there’s only one first and coach Snowden was the first. And it happened here, Tucson, Arizona. Not in a metropolitan area. Not in Detroit, New York, L.A. it happened here in Tucson, Arizona.”
Being the FIRST in any field is often under tremendous pressure. Coach Snowden is no exception. As Snowden paved the way for future African American coaches, he had to deal with blatant racism. There were bomb threats, and there were fire threats, there were kidnap threats. He kept most of it from his players, sharing it with Bob Elliott only once in his office at the McKay Center. But he never told his team. He silently bears all the pressure and protects everyone.
Coach Snowden and Bob Elliot
Photo by Arizona Athletics
“It is a sometimes forgotten part of Arizona Basketball history. In ways, it is more important than any conference title of even the 1997 National Championship. It is the hiring of Fred Snowden as Arizona head coach in the early 1970s.”
—KGUN9 highlights the historic significance of Fred Snowden’s hiring as Arizona head coach in the early 1970s.
Fred Snowden’s accomplishments as the first African American head coach at a major NCAA Division I University go beyond breaking racial barriers.
He was a pioneer in the game of basketball and a mentor to many players, both on and off the court. Despite the constant threat of violence, Snowden remained committed to his team and focused on the game. He instilled in his players the importance of hard work, perseverance, and determination, values that would help them both on and off the court.
Snowden’s legacy in the game of basketball is one that has inspired many. He paved the way for other minority coaches to follow in his footsteps and demonstrated that excellence on the court could be achieved by anyone, regardless of race or background. He also worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his players, helping them to succeed academically and professionally.
Despite facing numerous obstacles and setbacks in his life, Fred Snowden remained dedicated to his craft and committed to his players. His contributions to the game of basketball and to society as a whole are immeasurable, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
At Arizona, Coach Snowden and his “Kiddie Korps” enjoyed immediate success by having winning records in his first seven seasons and leading the Wildcats to the post-season three times, including the Elite Eight in 1976 and a Western Athletic Conference championship. His coaching record was 167-108, and he helped five UA players reach the NBA.
Coach Snowden was inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. He was named Tucson Man of the Year in 1973 and was named Coach of the Decade by the Arizona Daily Star in 1979. He passed away in 1994 at the age of 57.
Snowden was elected into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor in 2015, and two of his former players, Bob Elliott and Eric Money, wrote a book on his tenure “Tucson, A Basketball Town” that ushered in the McKale Center era of the program.
2023 is a celebration of his 50th year of the historic hire by Dave Strack, as well as Dr. Schaefer, who was president of U of A at the time. So they stepped out on a limb, but it opened the door for many more African American coaches to move into this wonderful world of athletics.
Celebrating 50 years of Coach Fred Snowden’s Historic Hiring and 50 Years of McKale Center!
Stacey provided us with stories, clips, photos, and newspaper articles from years gone by, and we loved that Motown Music that had us singing in our seats! Some of those clips were tough to hear and see, but that was their life. UA Basketball Head Coach Tommy Lloyd and Dave Heeke, VP of Athletics, were there to hear and support the event. Thank you to our donors and the UA Athletics as our Title Sponsor. Pat Parrish of KGUN and David Kelly KVOA were there to capture the moment.
Thanks, Ken, of Ken’s Hardwood Barbecue, for providing us with delicious barbecue before we started. Volunteers from COX and AmeriCorps were wonderful, and The Loft, also celebrating 50 years, was so easy to work with. Thank you, Peggy Johnson, JJ, and Stephanie Troutman Robbins, for your collaboration and support of this amazing evening!
This is a recording of FireSide Chat with Stacey Snowden, the daughter of the late Fred Snowden, the first African American head coach at a major American university. In this video, Stacey shares her father’s legacy and the impact he had on Arizona’s basketball history. Find out how Fred Snowden’s hiring in the early 1970s laid the foundation for the modern era of Arizona basketball and how he created a family atmosphere among his players that still bonds them today. This chat also sheds light on the challenges and racism Fred Snowden faced as the first African American head coach and how his hiring opened doors for other African American coaches in college basketball. Don’t miss this insightful conversation about a pivotal figure in the history of University basketball.
Video recorded by Richard DiFred – A Chat Videographer
Video edited by Jenny Li
TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It is a sometimes forgotten part of Arizona Basketball history. In ways, it is more important than any conference title of even the 1997 National Championship.
It is the hiring of Fred Snowden as Arizona head coach in the early 1970s.
“Often his name, his story, his place historically gets lost,” shared Stacey Snowden. “That’s why I’m trying to make sure that it’s not lost. That everyone does know the Fred Snowden story.”
She knows the Fred Snowden story very well. Stacey Snowden recently came back to Tucson to take part in a chat about her late father.
“You are only the first once,” she explained. “There was only one who was the first, Black head coach at a major university. That’s Fred Snowden and I’m proud of that. I want to make sure that everyone knows about his legacy.”
That legacy really began in 1972. A 36-year old, who grew up in inner city Detroit and weathered the riots of 1967, who the University of Arizona hired.
Reported by Pat Parris at KGUN9
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